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First Bites

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Hit and miss at new eateries

By Helen Schwab
hschwab@charlotteobserver.com

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First Bites is an occasional look at restaurants that have opened recently, not a full-fledged review.

Miyagi’s

The food: Korean meets – well, a variety of cuisines, really, with dishes ranging from tuna nachos to lo mein to sushi.

The backbone, though, is Korean – kalbi (beef short rib), bulgogi (thin strips of beef in a sweet-edged marinade, grilled; $15) and bibimbap (called “mixed rice,” this is a bowl of rice with separate mounds of vegetables and ground beef here, with a fried egg on top).

Our kalbi tended to the bland (as was the spicy pickled cabbage called kimchi, which included cucumbers, beansprouts and fish cakes). Bulgogi’s flavor was shallow and the beef a mite fatty. (Question: Is it restrained for the customers, to not frighten people off with strong flavors? Or is its restraint costing potential customers who expect and want more vibrance from the Korean items?)

The unlikely tuna nacho ($9) was best of what we tried: crisp wonton chips topped with sliced tuna, thinly sliced radish, a bit of avocado and a drizzle of wasabi aioli with a decent kick. Unusual bites, nicely done.

The décor: Hardwood floors and no upholstery or drapery means the place tends to the loud even when not busy. Seating comes three ways: a line of short-backed, very spinny barstools (grab that table!) at bar-height tables; regular tables seating six; and the bar, facing three TV screens.

The service: Polite and quick, ours was not well acquainted with the menu.

Details: Lunch and dinner daily; entrees $14-$17. 3220 N. Davidson St.; 980-949-8171; miyagisnoda.com.

Vine

The food: Subtitled “American Kitchen,” this is straightforward with a few Creole/Cajun adds: Steaks, ribs, chicken, fish, flatbreads, burgers, sandwiches, jambalaya, blackened shrimp.

Most surprising? Rotisserie roast beef. Lump crabcakes fared nicely – and better than the last dozen or so I’ve had – with barely any binding and a nice, restrained flavor (the spicy remoulade wasn’t, plus it came on the side). We tried a special – herb-crusted prime rib ($32) – and grilled salmon and both disappointed, the rib fatty and the salmon tiny, though well-flavored, for $23.

The wine list, primarily American and with a nice range in price, also offers about two dozen by the glass, and notes that 21 from the cruvinet have 90+ ratings.

The décor: The woody dining room is a crosshatching of booths with high sides, which lends a cozy intimacy (or a touch of claustrophobia, depending on your bent) to your meal. Look up and you’ll see bricked columns and TV screens, and pretty, low lighting throughout.

The service: Warm – but could we ban “Are you giving up on that?” from servers’ lexicons? (Have more you’d like to ban? Email me.)

Details: Lunch and dinner daily; dinner entrees $15-$29. 13735 Conlan Circle at Ballantyne; 704-469-5282; vinekitchen.com.

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